8 ways to truly help a grieving friend

Knowing how to support a friend who is grieving is not easy. But these tips will help you sensitively reach out as they navigate their healing journey.

When someone we love is in the depths of grief, it can be hard to know how to support them.

You may be concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing – and end up saying or doing nothing at all.

There’s no manual for helping a friend navigate a loss but experts say there are some simple dos and don’ts that can make a real difference to their journey.

8 ways to help a grieving friend

Do something practical to help

Before asking, “Is there anything I can do?”, stop and think: what can you do to make their life a little easier?

Grief therapist Cait Wotherspoon says actions are better than words when supporting loved ones who may be reluctant to be a burden, or even struggle to articulate what they need.

“They are in a fog and may not even be able to get out of bed in the beginning,” Cait says.

“Have a think about what you can do, such as making meals or walking their dog.”

Share stories about the deceased person

Don’t feel nervous about bringing up their loved one – it may even help them heal, Cait says.

“Listening to their stories about their loved one, and sharing your stories about them, helps someone feel heard, and it keeps that person’s memory alive,” she says.

Using the name of the person they’ve lost is also important.

Ask how they would like you to navigate their loss

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to grief, so it can be helpful to let your friend lead the way, psychotherapist Julie Sweet advises.

“They are best placed to set boundaries and disclose what works for them and what doesn’t,” Julie, of Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy, says.

Show them you care

Just showing up and assuring someone they are not alone can be a big comfort.

“The best thing you can do is show compassion, be present and listen,” Cait says.

Try simple supportive statements including: “I love you”; “I want you to know I care”; and “I wish I had the right words but I’m here for you”.
4 things to avoid when supporting a grieving friend

Don’t use platitudes

No matter how well-meaning you are, the last thing people who are grieving want to hear are hollow statements such as: “They lived a long, good life” or “At least they’re not suffering anymore”.

Cait says we instinctively want to try and make others feel better, but platitudes can unintentionally come across as insensitive.

“Don’t try to make them happy; they need to work through their grief and make sense of it,” she says.

“They don’t need a silver lining right now.”

Don’t try to speed up their grief

Grief can last years, and your friend or family member may need long-term support, Cait says.

“It seems as a society we consider that six to eight weeks is an acceptable time to grieve, then people are expected to get on with their life,” she says.

“The casseroles stop coming, people stop checking in and seem to forget you are still going through hell.

“The best thing to do is allow people sit with their grief.”

Don’t make it about you

Even if you can empathise, it’s not always helpful to share your own experience of loss.

“It can sometimes be received as lacking in self-awareness,” Julie notes.

Don’t give advice

Unsolicited advice during a highly emotional time should also be avoided, Julie advises.

Press pause on sharing recommendations for books, podcasts or grief therapists until the person is ready or asks.

More advice on grief:

Written by Elissa Doherty.